Two local projects could receive more than $3.5 million in funding

Two Otter Tail County projects are among funding recommendations the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources presented to the Legislature for 2023, putting them on track for formal approval. 

The LCCMR – a 17-member bipartisan group of legislators and citizens— recently listed projects at Maplewood State Park and the Phelps Mill Park, totaling more than $3.5 million, among the projects LCCMR supports funding through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Otter Tail County Commissioner Lee Rogness said collaboration with Rep. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls, and numerous local officials was key to advancing these projects.

“Representative Rasmusson has been a tremendous advocate for Otter Tail County in St. Paul,” Rogness said. “He has been instrumental in helping us identify and secure funding for these important projects.”

Rasmusson carried capital investment legislation this year to fund the final 4.2-mile stretch of the Heart of the Lakes Trail, linking a 32-mile span from Pelican Rapids to Perham through Maplewood State Park. When a capital investment package was not approved last session, Rasmusson said he and other local officials started exploring alternatives and decided the LCCMR was a natural fit and the panel is recommending $2.5 million for the project.

“The LCCMR’s objective is to help maintain and enhance Minnesota’s environment and natural resources,” Rasmusson said. “The fact this 4.2-mile link is exclusively within the boundaries of a state park made it a good candidate for LCCMR consideration and I am pleased to see this local proposal made the list. The LCCMR recommended fewer than half of the proposals it received, so we should be pleased to have made the cut.”

Otter Tail County Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard said there also has been coordination with the Minnesota DNR to establish an acceptable trail route, with an emphasis on protecting the natural, cultural and archeological resources. He indicated corridor design, environmental review and permitting is nearly complete and, if approved by the legislature, construction would begin next summer.

“Maplewood is a major attraction in our region, with 171,000 visitors last year,” Rasmusson said. “This trail connection in the park will bring more people to Otter Tail County and enhance this already great asset in our region. These additional visitors will result in an influx of tourism dollars to our area, especially benefitting local businesses.”

Additionally, $974,000 was approved for Phase 1 of the Phelps Mill Park prairie and wetland restoration project. Specifically, this proposal will restore vacant lands for habitat connectivity, create new wildlife habitat, benefit ground and surface water quality, and will increase public access for outdoor recreational opportunities by establishing several miles of trails and boardwalk.

Overall, the LCCMR received requests for 174 projects totaling $164 million for 2023. The package of 85 it selected, at $80 million, is expected to be taken up for consideration during next year’s legislative session, which starts in January.